York County motorists hit with $5 fee

Greg Gross
  • The $5 fee will be implemented on October 1
  • It is expected to generate about $2 million and the revenue will be used for bridge repair and improvements

Starting in October, York County drivers will pay an extra $5 when they renew their car registration.

County commissioners, at their weekly meeting on Wednesday, approved the imposition of the fee that's expected to generate about $2 million yearly and will be used specifically for repairing the 95 county-owned bridges.

"The county is responsible for a narrow but critical slice" of transportation infrastructure, Felicia Dell, director of the York County Planning Commission, told commissioners ahead of the vote.

Revenue from the fee will make up for state funding that has remained stagnant over the years. The county doesn't dip into its general fund for bridgework, relying solely on about $1.8 million in state funding.

The flat funding levels coupled with increasing costs to maintain the aging bridges led planning commission officials to project a funding shortfall by 2020. Officials first rang the alarm bells in 2014 about costs outpacing funding.

"We've done a lot with a little," Dell said.

Numerous organizations in the county backed the fee, and the York County Economic Alliance formally supported it in the form of a resolution it passed earlier this week.

Signatures: Commissioners began exploring the fee in late April. Up until Wednesday, no one had publicly opposed it in the commissioners' weekly meetings. Commissioners previously had said they received less than a dozen calls or emails from residents questioning why the fee is needed.

On the day commissioners approved the fee, G. Thomas Smeltzer, of Windsor Township, turned up with a petition bearing 100 signatures of people opposed to being hit with the $5 fee.

He also questioned why the fee will be imposed on Oct. 1 rather than at the start of 2017 and whether the money actually would come back to the county instead of being shuttled to other parts of the state.

The state Department of Transportation will be responsible for collecting the fee and will send every penny of it back to York County. It won't collect a service fee, Dell said.

She explained that in a 12-month period starting in October, everyone will be hit with the fee, even though it's not a calendar year.

County officials opted to set October as the start date so some money will start flowing to the county in December, allowing officials to plan for next year's bridgework, Will Clark, the planning commission's chief of transportation planning, had said.

"I'm still opposed to it," he said after the meeting, adding that senior citizens on fixed incomes could have a tough time paying the added $5. But the blow to his wallet was softened slightly after learning revenue from the fee is earmarked for bridgework.

County officials long have said the fee is essentially a user surcharge, since only motorists will pay it.

Paying the fee: Drivers will automatically be charged the $5 fee whenever their vehicle registration comes due, but there is a way around paying the fee every year.

As part of the transportation spending plan, Act 89, motorists will be able to renew their registration every two years at a slightly higher cost instead of every year. The $5 fee will be charged each time a registration is renewed, whether that's every year or every two years, Dell said.

"There is some discounting if you pay on a two-year cycle," she said.

Eleven counties, including nearby Cumberland and Dauphin counties, charge the fee that was allowed under  Act 89.

In York County, 17 of the 95 county-owned bridges need to be replaced, Dell said.

It costs between $1.3 million and $1.7 million to replace a bridge, meaning one replacement project would all but wipe out the $1.8 million in state funding the county receives yearly.

President Commissioner Susan Byrnes said the 17 bridges can't handle the weight of a fire truck or a school bus, and that poses a serious safety concern.

"We need to do this for our bridges and the safety of our citizens," she said.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.

By the numbers:

  • $5 will be tacked on to vehicle registrations for York County residents
  • 461,547 vehicles are registered in York County
  • $2 million is expected to be generated yearly
  • $36 is what a one-year vehicle registration costs now
  • $41 is what it will cost with the fee included
  • Oct. 1 is when the fee will be imposed